LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen.
In Iraq, there's been an upsurge in violence in the past 10 days or so, mainly in the form of bombing attacks on police patrols and civilians. It's difficult to gauge how serious the upsurge may be because U.S. and Iraqi sources give widely different accounts of the casualties. After a multiple bomb attack on Monday, Iraqi sources said there were at least 28 dead. American military officials put the death toll at five. NPR's Corey Flintoff has more from Baghdad.
COREY FLINTOFF: The attack in Baghdad's Kasra neighborhood was horrendous by any standard. A car bomb struck a busy street at morning rush hour. As people ran to help the wounded, two smaller explosions added to the carnage. Karam Ali Dhari, an 18-year-old student, rushed to the area immediately after it happened.
Mr. KARAM ALI DHARI (Iraqi Student): (Through Translator) I saw many casualties, including a bus with girl students. They were secondary school girls. Maybe only three or four of them survived. Those who made it lost either hands or legs.
FLINTOFF: Video taken by the U.S.-supported al-Hurra television showed the bus, its windows blasted out. The blood-spattered floor of the bus was strewn with girls' shoes and sandals. Karam Dhari says he thinks the death toll was high.
Mr. DHARI: (Through Translator) About 25 to 27 killed. There were 13 girl students. The rest were passersby or people in the restaurants.
FLINTOFF: But Dhari also refers to the numbers he later heard on television, which ranged from 28 to 31 dead with nearly 70 wounded. And it's not clear whether his eyewitness impression has been influenced by news reports. The day after the explosion, NPR reporters were barred from interviewing people on the street by an Iraqi army unit which was maintaining tight security at the site. The captain in charge of the unit said that a suicide bomb went off very close to the girls' bus, but he insisted that only five people were killed and around 40 injured. That comports with the numbers given by U.S. military officials, who say there was a U.S. patrol at the scene almost immediately after the blasts.
Lieutenant Colonel STEVE STOVER (Public Affairs Officer, Multinational Division, Baghdad): The overall casualty count was five civilians killed and 37 wounded. That number was verified with the civilians as well as the first responders as well as the Iraqi security forces on the ground.
FLINTOFF: That's Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, the public affairs officer for the multinational division in Baghdad. Stover says that U.S. patrols and the explosive experts who investigate such bombings are trained to report on them carefully as crime scenes. He also says that American forces have no reason to fudge the numbers. A source at the Ministry of Interior, which controls Iraq's police, says U.S. and Iraqi military forces do have a reason to downplay casualties, especially in areas where they have a big presence.
Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) When an area like that suffers a big explosion, there's no way they'll give you correct casualty figures, because it shows that the people in charge aren't doing their jobs.
FLINTOFF: The source, who insists on remaining anonymous because he's not officially authorized to release casualty figures, put the death toll at at least 28. But the police casualty figures aren't supported by reports from local hospitals. Dr. Ziyad Tariq Abbas is the chief surgeon at al-Nu'man Hospital, which is closest to the blast site.
Dr. ZIYAD TARIQ ABBAS (Chief Surgeon, Al-Nu'man Hospital, Iraq): We received around 12 injured people. All of them are male. One of them was dead, and one of them was severely injured in the head area.
FLINTOFF: A spokesman for Baghdad's main hospitals reported that they received a total of three dead bodies from the Kasra attack, all males, including the one mentioned by Dr. Abbas. There's wide speculation as to why the casualty figures vary so greatly. Some say numbers are exaggerated in an effort to discredit the government's claims that it's providing better security at a time when Iraq and the U.S. were trying to conclude an agreement specifying how long U.S. troops could remain in Iraq. Others say the government is low-balling the numbers to convince Iraqis that it has security under control in order to garner votes as Iraq prepares for provincial elections at the end of January. Uncertain casualty figures make it hard for either side to make its case. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Baghdad.
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